We have Joyce Colmar, now-semi-retired founder of Englewood’s Vino Loco Gourmet, to thank.

She nurtured Englewood’s two newest wine barkeeps, both of them warm, winning women and former wine sales reps.

VINO LOCO’S NEW VINTNER

Vintner, as in “wine merchant,” not grower of grapes. Though Lisa Carpenter, new owner of Vino Loco, knows grapes and their bottled byproducts so well that she could practically be either.

Colmar is a foodie and wine aficionado with enough French DNA to be taken for a Parisian, so it wasn’t a huge leap for her to start a Vino Loco in 2008, when she “retired’ after 31 years practicing law.

She described it as “a pleasant balance of wine bar, wine shop and restaurant.” Still is.

After Vino Loco first opened, Carpenter began working for Colmar as a part-time server.

Carpenter’s background seems custom-designed for future wine bar ownership. She, too, is a foodie, self-described geography nerd, and wine and cheese connoisseur.

She’d worked since the age of 15 for Maryland restaurant groups, including Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and opened a string of Greater Baltimore-area restaurants owned by the iconic Liberatore family — all while traveling as a regional marketing manager for Southwest Airlines.

After four years at Vino Loco, she became a wine rep, then manager of Florida sales and operations for one of Colmar’s main importer/distributors, Masciarelli Wine Company/San Martino Imports.

“I always brought suppliers and winemakers to do events with Joyce,” she said. “As manager, I brought my sales reps here for training, because Joyce has such an amazing palate.

“She was in tune with smaller producers, nothing mass-distributed, high quality, and knew the stories of the people, history and geography behind the wines.”

Carpenter, too.

“When people complain that wine gives them a headache, it’s not a health issue. They’re just drinking bad wine. When they say, ‘I don’t drink Chardonnay,’ I ask, ‘But have you tried it from this region?’”

The retail shop holds 350 varieties — all hand-curated by Colmar, who still consults for Vino Loco — including a proprietary Vino Loco label, and 35 on the pour list, by glass or bottle.

Vino Loco still prides itself on serving Chef Katrina Manchester’s delectably varied original menu of cold and warm tapas small plates, as well as Chef Bobby Holt’s weekly specials and twice-monthly wine/tapas tastings.

Expect, too, to find a new selection of imported cheeses on the menu and in the retail store.

“But the concept of this place, from the menu to the staff, hasn’t changed,” said Carpenter. “It’s been successful this way for a very long time—a wine place that happens to have great food to go with the wine.”

The Vino Loco personality? All very European. Sit, sip wine and eat tapas made with the finest ingredients. Then order again. And again. And relax for a good, long while.

Vino Loco ($$, O), 941-473-8466 (VINO), 420 W. Dearborn Street, is open Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

RUMOURS HAS IT

Englewood’s latest rumor has it that Dana and Jerry Kuhn’s nearly two-year-old Rumours Wine Bar is expanding into the next-door Lemon Bay Plaza space vacated by Simply Yum Yum bakery.

We’ll go into that shortly. And so will they.

But, first, Dana also went to Joyce Colmar seeking a part-time Vino Loco job.

The former schoolteacher told Colmar, “I don’t know anything about wine, but I know a lot about people.”

She offered to work for free for a week and ended up staying nearly five years, working alongside Lisa Carpenter.

When Carpenter became a Masciarelli manager, she hired Dana as one of her reps, and Dana learned a lot more about wine.

Rumours began in the Kuhns’ living room in September 2019.

Devastated by her father’s death, Dana had resigned as a wine rep and taken time off to figure out what to do next.

It didn’t take her long to decide. She’d always dreamed of opening her own wine bar. All it needed was an artfully accidental logo of a red wine stain with a swoopy R. And a place to open in.

Plaza owners Scott and Sarah Libertore were at first dead set against a wine bar but hadn’t counted on Dana’s doggedness.

Her persistence not only won her a premium foot-traffic space but also got her through a pandemic and eventually led the Libertores to offer the Kuhns the square footage next door.

Sometime this season, that space will become a wine boutique and outlet for gourmet meats, cheeses and charcuterie-to-go, with a small bar and high tops. Most seating and sipping will remain back in the original Rumours.

The retail wine store first opened there in January 2020, pandemic-pivoting immediately into an online store with curbside pickup and delivery. It never shut down and even carried on with virtual Zoom tastings.

In September 2020, it received its beer and wine license for on-premise consumption, as well as a restaurant license.

Every second Friday there’s team trivia with Sharyn Lonsdale; the last Monday, craft painting parties with Nichole Moranda. They partner with Skip’s Marina’s Drifter’s Boutique for Sip & Shop on the first Friday of the month.

For $35 or $50 wine club members, Dana picks a bottle of red, a bottle of white (it all depends upon her appetite).

The owner’s choices go home from a festive Wine Pickup Party on the first or second Saturday of the month. A wine rep pours and educates, while live music plays and Dana serves Nibbles.

The Rumours vibe? Cozy, fun, youthful, more wine bar than restaurant, always something going on. A place where Dana can introduce customers to 25 non-mass-produced wines-by-the-glass that they’ve never experienced before, as well as beers and specialty drinks.

Rumours Wine Bar ($, O), 941-473-9463 (WINE), 1807 Englewood Road (Lemon Bay Plaza), is open Wednesday and Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday to 9 p.m.

Send restaurant and bar news and recommendations to columnist Sue Wade at suewade47@aol.com.

Average price ranges are $ = inexpensive (under $10), $$ = moderate ($11-$30), and $$$ = pricey (over $30), including tip and beverage. Outside dining available = O.

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